Members of Hamas inspect the wreck of a car after an Israeli air strike near Deir al-Balah in the Gaza Strip [REUTERS]

An Israeli air strike has killed three Palestinians in the southern Gaza Strip, medical officials and the Israeli army said.

Residents said the strike on Saturday targeted a car driving between the town of Khan Yunis and the Deir al-Balah refugee camp.

An Israeli military spokesman said the raid, planned jointly with the Shin Bet domestic security agency, was a preemptive strike against militants planning to kidnap Israelis during the coming Jewish festival of Passover.

Hamas said the three men killed were members of its group, but officials declined comment on the allegations made against them by the Israeli military.

In a statement issued later, Hamas called the strike "a crime" and vowed revenge.

An Israeli air strike in the same area of Gaza on Wednesday killed an Islamic Jihad member on a motorcycle.
In a rise in violence last month, Israel carried out a series of air strikes and Palestinian armed groups fired rocket salvoes into Israel.

Most of the Palestinian firing since has been attributed to Islamic Jihad.

Despite the spike in tension of late, both Israel and Hamas, which rules Gaza, appear reluctant to be dragged into another bloody confrontation along the lines of the December 2008 - January 2009 war, which killed more than 1,400 people, the vast majority Palestinians.

Source: Agencies